The fading Broadway season of 1967-1968 has been given a mind blowing psychedelic dose of acid with the arrival of a musical show titled, for want of a better name, Hair at the Biltmore Theatre. This is the same spectacle, more or less, that made its first appearance earlier this year down at Joseph Papp's Public theater on Lafyette Street, and which was subsequently transferred for a short space to an uptown discotheque.
Now on a regular stage, in a regular Broadway theater, it has been refurbished and refinished, given some new songs and less of a plot, and turns out to be a slam-bang, racketing, rocketing uproar that will leave you pop-eyed with astonishment, wonder, and maybe even revulsion.
The general theme of Hair is one of protest. (The text for its sermon might have been taken from Groucho Marx who once said "Whatever it is, I'm against it!") Politics, racism, air pollution, the war in Vietnam, the generation gap, the Hippies - especially the Hippies - suburban morality, hallucinatory drugs, you name it, Hair has something to say about it. In song, in dance, in chorus ensembles, and in a wild, free swinging beat that betters the listener and viewer into stupefaction.
There are scenes in which the company comes dancing down the aisles strewing flowers and joss sticks at the audience, there are other scenes in which some of the players swing overhead from the balcony to the stage on a rope, there's one bit where one guy comes racing down through the theater on a motorbike. At the end of the first act, if it can be called a first act, there's that now famous nude scene with a whole group of performers facing the audience stark, staring nekkid. With all that uproar going on behind, however, its probably the unsexiest nude scene ever to have been devised.
Directed by Tom O'Horgan, with book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado (who also play two of the leading roles) Hair is a frenzied agglomeration that despite its seeming total chaos still bears the stamp of skilled professionalism in all its aspects. The mob scenes move back and forth across the stage, and up and down the aisles of the theater, with the precision of a ballet troupe; the songs are belted out with a fine, reverberating effect, and even in the face of the supposedly anti-everything theme, with the actors in long hair, bare feet, dirty jeans, leather jackets or moo-moo gowns or miniskirts, they are still beneath their costumes, actors.
I was particularly taken with a song called "Looking For My Da-Da" ( sic. Editors note: I think he means "Donna") and a ballad titled "Air" in which you were advised to "breath deep, the air belongs to you - sulphuric (sic) dioxide, carbon monoxide..." and all the other pollutants as well. Or again another number in which the initials of LBJ, IRT and LSD are put together in a rollicking rhythm and tempo. Or for still other items, "Walking In Space", "Black Boys" and "White Boys' and as the finale "Good Morning Starshine".
In addition to the Messrs. Ragni and Rado the show also has a sizable quota of highly attractive singers, chief among them which may be a girl named Lynn Kellogg, another performer named Steve Curry and Lamont Washington, Sally Eaton, Melba Moore, and Shelley Plimpton. They all contribute energy, enthusiasm, and a vibrant electric quality to the show such as Broadway has seldom seen. And they make Hair a wonderfully lively business. This is the musical theater of 1968. It's about time it got to Broadway.
Copyright New York Morning Telegraph.